I know you teach that we can't "claim" a Bible verse for ourselves, but what about passages like Jeremiah 29:11 or Isaiah 43 that make promises consistent with teaching in the New Testament, like Romans 8:28? Can we look upon these verses and claim them as true for us today? Isn't the Gentile Church grafted into the promises of Israel anyway?
As we mentioned in an earlier article, it is never proper to interpret Scripture by "claiming" a verse is written to us personally. The notion of claiming a verse stems from the idea that the Bible is merely a collection of sayings or words of wisdom, and that these words have magical power to compel God according to our hopes or desires. Like incantations, the words themselves are believed to hold the power, and if we appropriate them for ourselves, the power to make them true will come as well.
To help illustrate how this is false, consider an everyday example. Let's assume a wife mailed her husband a Valentine's Day card with the words, "I love you." Unfortunately, the card was delivered by mistake to the next door neighbor's house. When your neighbor opened the card and read it, he immediately recognized that the card was intended for someone else.
Nevertheless, the neighbor decides to "claim" the words for himself, so the next time he sees the wife standing in her front yard, he walks up to her and leans close expecting a big kiss. What do you think this woman would do in response?
As silly as this example may be, this is exactly what we do to God when we take His words out of context and attempt to misdirect them for our own purposes. God's word has power, of course, but the source of that power is found in God Himself. God will ensure that His word goes forth and does not fail, as Isaiah says:
Is. 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
Notice where true power lies: in God's determination to see His word accomplish "WHAT I DESIRE." This is the key point. God's word will accomplish what God wants it to accomplish. It does not accomplish what we desire. It only accomplishes what God desires. This is the power of God's word.
Therefore, there is no basis for us to "claim" a verse of Scripture and expect it will have power in our life. For example, consider the following verse from Psalm 2:
Psa. 2:8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
Can we "claim" this verse? Can I decide that God is promising to give me the nations as an inheritance and the very earth as my possession? No, because the psalmist wasn't talking about me. Psalm 2 is addressed to Jesus. The psalmist was describing what God the Father has promised to do for His Son, Jesus. Jesus will receive the nations as an inheritance and will possess the entire earth.This verse does not apply to us, and so we can't claim that it does.
Proper interpretation of Scripture requires that we make careful observation of who is speaking and who is being addressed by the text. Only then can we arrive at a proper interpretation and application.
The notion of claiming Scripture for ourselves also gives rise to silly, illogical and unhelpful interpretations of Scripture. For example, how would someone "claim" this verse:
2Tim. 4:13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
Turning to the verses you cited, let's look at Jeremiah 29:11 in context:
Jer. 29:10 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
Jer. 29:11 ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
Jer. 29:12 ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
Obviously, the Lord is speaking to Israel in captivity in Babylon (as v.10 demonstrates clearly). To this group of exiled Jews, the Lord then says in v.11 that He has plans for them and His plans are not to bring Israel to its end. Rather, the Lord is working in Babylon for Israel's welfare and to give them a future hope. God is speaking words of encouragement through Jeremiah to Israel in captivity so Israel will not grow discouraged in their circumstances.
Finally, in v.12 the Lord promises Israel that one day they will call upon the Lord's name and pray to Him and He will listen to them again. This prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in the days of Tribulation when Israel is restored at the Second Coming of Christ. (If you are interested in learning more about this restoration of Israel, we recommend you study our Revelation course.)
So can we take the message of Jeremiah 29:11 personally? Remember, God is speaking concerning a specific audience with a specific purpose here, and we must understand and respect that audience and purpose. In the case of Jeremiah 29:11, God says He has good intentions for Israel in their captivity, and He will ultimately bring about Israel's restoration at the Lord's return.
Since we are not Israel in captivity in Babylon, we cannot interpret these verse to say anything specifically about Gentile Christians today. Nevertheless, these verses still have value for Christians in the way they can teach us concerning Israel and help us gain an appreciation for God's plan for Israel (see 2Tim 3:16), but the context doesn't allow us to interpret the verse as if speaking about us personally.
A better question to ask is can we find the principles of Jeremiah 29:11 (i.e., that the Lord has good intentions for Israel and Israel can rest in that hope) expressed to Gentile Christians elsewhere in the Bible? In this case, the answer is yes. Other Scripture repeats this principle and applies it to Christians.
You cited one example in Romans 8:28, but we can also see it in Romans 8:31, Rom 8:38-39, Phil 1:6, Phil 4:11-16, and many more. These verses teach and support the same concept but apply them specifically to Gentile Christians. Jeremiah 29:11, however, is not a proof text to support this conclusion for Gentiles.
Isaiah 43 is another good example of this same principle. The words spoken in that chapter are directed at Israel only, so we cannot appropriate them for our own purposes assuming the Lord will automatically honor our desires. Nevertheless, many (but not all) of the principles in that chapter can be found repeated for Christians elsewhere in the Bible.
If we get "lazy" and misappropriate Scripture and make false interpretations, we risk making very wrong conclusions and teaching others to expect wrong things. For example, consider 2Chr 7:14:
2Chr. 7:14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
I've seen bumper stickers featuring this verse accented with patriotic American flags. The intended interpretation is obvious: if America would heed these instructions, God has promised to heal our land. This is simply wrong. The verse is speaking only to Israel, as part of the God's covenant with Israel.
No where in Scripture does God promise to heal any other nation under any circumstances. God does not have a covenant with the United States. Only Israel receives such a promise, which will be fulfilled at Christ's Second Coming. Bumper sticker theology should not replace proper Biblical scholarship.
Finally, yes we are grafted into the promises of Israel, but remember the full context of Paul's analogy in Romans 11. We are the unnatural branches grafted into the natural tree. The promises are given to the natural (Israel), and the unnatural branches will benefit from them as well, but the benefit is purely spiritual. Through the promises of Israel, we receive opportunity for salvation and to know the Lord and learn His word. On the other hand, we do not gain the right to have all that Israel was promised.
The promises to Israel stand apart from anything the Gentiles expect to receive. Consider the analogy of the wife of the President. When he enters office, he will receive many perks and privileges that go with his office. His wife will also enjoy many of those same perks, but she is not the President. She can't expect to be treated like the President and she doesn't have the same privileges. She simply benefits by association.
Likewise, the Church is blessed by its connection to Israel through our faith in the promises of God, but we are not Israel and never will be Israel. Therefore, we cannot look upon promises spoken directly to that nation and assume each detail is true for Christians or us personally, unless those principles are repeated to the church specifically in other Scripture.